The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Lab! Theatre's 'Speech and Debate' opens tonight

“Speech and Debate” promises to be a juicy high school play, full of sexual intrigue, blackmail and shameless ambition.

As director Andrew Slater joked, it’s more like “Notes on a Scandal” than the happy halls of “Saved by the Bell.”

In the play, one student creates a blog relating a sex scandal between another student and a teacher. A reporter stumbles upon it and tries to turn it into a media explosion.

The latest production from Lab! Theatre and the Department of Dramatic Art’s Undergraduate Theatre, the play opens tonight.

Slater found the play when he went looking for a modern comedy. He wanted something that dealt with the issues facing today’s teenagers, like sexuality and the transition to adulthood, in a contemporary way.

“Speech and Debate,” first performed in 2006, is rooted in a modern group of teens who are in a difficult place where they need to talk about sex and growth but are treated like children by their teachers, Slater said.


Time: 8:15 p.m. today; 8:15 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; 4 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Monday; 5 p.m. Tuesday

Kenan Theatre


But, the cast points out, with high school hormones raging, a level of ridiculousness ensues.

The actors and director agreed that trying to ground the characters in reality but avoiding an ensemble of caricatures was part of the challenge.

“The first time I read through the play, I laughed out loud at how ridiculous it was,” said cast member Tyler Burt, who plays Howie. “But when you’re inside the character it’s serious. It’s life and death in there.”

“Pretty much like high school,” added Josh Wolonick, who plays Soloman.

Slater said performing modern productions like this is important because a lot of theater that confronts youth issues is already outdated.

The actors found some interesting challenges when they began exploring their characters.

There’s Diwata, played by Sarah Berk; she creates a whirlwind of drama with her blog.

“She’s got the juice. She knows the juice,” Wolonick said.

 Berk said she could relate easily to the character, but had to be careful not to let her life experiences influence her character’s.

Wolonick had a different problem — his character suffers from stage fright.

“There’s this dance scene and he doesn’t want to dance, and I just don’t understand,” Wolonick joked.

Finally, there’s a teacher and a reporter, both played by Melissa Parker.

Parker said it was a challenge to play the older characters who are both “super frumpy and exhausted.”

Both characters serve as a reminder that there is always a level of miscommunication between teenagers and adults during this tumultuous, but comedic time in our lives, she said.

Contact the Arts Editor at


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.